A request

The next few weeks were some of the happiest of Tobey’s life. Although his bruises did not lessen in the month that followed, he admitted aloud that when he entered the little house, all the troubles of the day left him. This was apparent to the twins as he took off his stiff, blue, impermeable jacket and strange bag – the weight of the world and his former unhappiness seemed to lift from his shoulders too, and with each day that passed, he walked less like a defeated man and more like a conqueror in their presence. Arriving at the house after school most days, Tobey and Cosmodius spent many happy hours together engaged in their music- Cosmodius teaching the lyre in return for lessons on Tobey’s strange “violin”- or their studies- Tobey would often take out the books from his bag and explain their contents to the sage, teaching him the modern learning his masters had shown him that day, while Cosmodius would show him the ancient wisdom he had acquired through many years of study. Theirs was a meeting of minds and as the month wore on, Cosmodius’s years of near-solitude began to undo themselves, his old good looks slowly restoring.

And Aramis?

Very well one could ask that. She sighed, stirring the soup on the diminishing heat of the stove. While the month they had passed together had been a pleasant experience for both her brother and his great and newfound friend, for her it had been lonely and frustrating. Although often present when Cosmodius and Tobey were pursuing these intellectual activities, she was always on the outside, peeling vegetables, preparing supper, darning clothing. Not once had she been invited to look too at the bright pages of Tobey’s textbooks, or to listen to the songs Cosmodius had written about their mutual childhood. Not once had she been able to speak to their guest though he had visited them nearly every day. While she understood why this was necessary-Cosmodius’s concern over her virtue was not a new thing, after all- nonetheless, she felt hurt.

A single tear dropped invisibly into the soup like seasoning.

“It’s cold in here,” said Tobey, a few minutes later, looking up from explaining ionic bonding to a fascinated Cosmodius.

Reluctantly, Cosmodius too looked up from the book, his expression of puzzlement fading into his usual, self-controlled mask. The effort it took him to tear himself away from the new learning was palpable. Standing up, he stared into the empty basket where they kept wood as if by staring he might make the wood materialise.

“We have no more wood, Aramis,” he said, turning to her and addressing her directly for the first time in Tobey’s presence.

Acutely grateful for the lack of wood, wondering if it were a long-overdue gift of good fortune, Aramis turned away from her brother to hide the slightly inane smile she could feel erupting onto her face. “I need to see if I can salvage this soup,” she replied seriously.

She must have composed herself well; Cosmodius didn’t seem to notice that inwardly, she was rejoicing at the opportunity to talk. He grabbed a small axe from inside a cupboard hollowed from the earth. “I shall be back shortly. Will you still be here upon my return, Tobey?”

Tobey looked at the bracelet with the numbers that moved around his wrist before replying “yeah, I don’t see why not.”

“Very well,” said Cosmodius, bowing, and stepped out into the evening.

When Cosmodius was out of earshot, Tobey turned to Aramis. “How come you never speak to me any more?” he said, mildly puzzled.

“Wherefore…oh. My brother is keen on decorous conduct and it is not proper to speak until spoken to.”

Tobey looked more puzzled than before. “But then nobody would ever speak. Wait- your brother decrees who you can and can’t talk to? How does that work? If I tried to do that to Bee, she’d flatten me!”

“Bee?”

“Bee’s my older sister.”

Tobey grew very quiet, and the memory of Anna seemed to swell and fill the room. Aramis, filled with guilt, turned pink and hid behind her hair, Tobey, with head bowed in sadness, seemed not to notice. “I had another sister, called Anna, but she died. “

Aramis quietly expressed sympathy for his bereavement.

“It was a long time ago, don’t worry,” he said, taking off his spectacles to wipe a tear from his left eye. “You know, I thought you were her when I first-“

His voice cut off, as a strange buzzing sound was emitted from his impermeable jacket, hanging on the back of his chair. Tobey began to rummage in the pockets before pulling out a little box with letters and numbers printed on it. “Speak of the devil,” he said, pressing a red button.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a mobile- a mobile telephone. It means I can talk to people who are far away. That was Bee calling me.”

“Why didn’t you talk to her?”

“She probably just wants me to apologise to Mum for her for forgetting to go to the cemetery on the anniversary, or something. If I thought she actually wanted to talk to me…I’d slit my throat.”

Aramis stared at him, stunned.

“Well, you lied to Cosmodius, didn’t you?”

“There was no other choice- he would have disapproved intensely otherwise, and Cosmodius’s disapproval… you do not wish to cross Cosmodius.”

The matter hung in the air, making it heavy and souring the sweetness of his company. Awkwardly, she stood up, not sure whether to pursue the conversation or to pretend to be busy stirring the soup.

“Your family must be very influential for you to have such a valuable possession.”

Tobey laughed, and Aramis found herself smiling too. “No, not at all. Loads of people have phones nowadays.”

“Then tell  me… tell me about your world,” in the space of seconds, the seed of an idea was planted and grew lanky like a beanstalk. Tobey’s life was different, and Tobey’s sister, Bee, did not have the same worries as she did herself. The long years, repetitive in their solitude, seemed even emptier now, and she dared to dream that perhaps one day, she might be freer with Cosmodius… from Cosmodius. She wouldn’t leave him completely, of course not; he was her twin, her half-self… but perhaps he could be persuaded to come with her, to live in this strange new world erupting around them, to participate instead of forever being on the outside, outside life, outside time. Perhaps…

The description- each word only serving to convince her further that the idea was a good one- had barely commenced when Cosmodius entered with an enormous pile of wood, dropping it into the basket and filling the stove. She moved rapidly, as if she had been burnt, returning to the stove and stirring the soup again, hoping it had not congealed too much, while Tobey pretended to be avidly studying the ionic bonding in his textbook.

Cosmodius left the room again.

“He has left the axe in the rain, “said Aramis by way of an explanation, turning to face Tobey. “ Now, quickly, will you agree to show me your world?”

“you what?”

“Tobey, it’s important.”

“but this… this idyllic life, why would you want to give it up?”

“Tobey, please…”

The door swung open on its hinges; they resumed their innocuous positions, pretending to have been quietly ignoring each other the entire time. As Cosmodius put the axe away with a loud grunt, Tobey looked up and mouthed across the room

“Yes.”

The End

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